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Wed Feb 13, 2013, 05:21 PM

Enough with the Wretched Middle Class Already By Max Ehrenfreund

http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/ten-miles-square/2013/02/enough_with_the_wretched_middl042986.php

Whoís middle class? A well-paid worker on the floor of an auto factory is probably the definitive example of a middle-class person. Yet someone who owns a couple of fast-food franchises is likely in the middle class, too, as is a successful self-employed interior designer. A kindergarten teacher, a cop, and a teller at a bank would all be on the list. So might software engineers, whether retired or recently immigrated from South Korea, along with pediatricians, although not plastic surgeons, and public defenders, but not trial lawyers. Even if all of these people make roughly the same amount of money after taxes, their circumstances are different, and it isnít clear why any one set of policies would help all of them.

For factory workers living in a decaying industrial city like Youngstown, Ohio, whose support helped Obama win that state and the election, protecting the middle class probably means opposing the expansion of free trade. Free trade theoretically strengthens the economy on the whole, but not without creating winners and losers. The winners would be other members of the middle class, particularly well-educated people who donít have to compete with laborers in foreign countries. Their jobs are safe, and they benefit from buying goods that cost less to produce. For the same reason, free trade also benefits the poor, who might work in agriculture, the service sector, or other industries where competition from foreign labor is minimal.
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Likewise, consider he presidentís proposal to increase the federal minimum wage. Raising the minimum might help poor people join the middle class, but it might harm middle-class workers who were laid off during the recession by rendering them more expensive for employers. A higher minimum would certainly harm those in the upper middle class by forcing them to spend more on lawn care. Raising the national minimum wage would benefit some members of the middle class, but not others.

Those upper-middle-class people with lawns to manicure also benefit disproportionately from the mortgage interest deduction, a lousy piece of public policy that allows people who own homes to deduct the interest they pay on their mortgages when calculating their income tax. Tax deductions and subsidies were among the first issues Obama discussed, and the mortgage income deduction is among the largest tax subsidies, costing the government around $100 billion each year. The very idea of incentivizing homeownership is questionable, as evidenced by the enormous damaged caused by a collapsed housing bubble. Still, itís unlikely Rubio or Obama would seriously consider eliminating the deduction because itís so enormously beneficial to a relatively small group of moderately wealthy people.
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These examples point to the fact that the middle class as invoked by Obama and Rubio is really a cultural totem. There are indeed simple policies that would raise the standard of living for the overwhelming majority of the population: generous social insurance and the concomitant redistribution of wealth, and they achieve that goal admirably where theyíve been implemented in European countries. Yet nothing could be less ďmiddle classĒ than helping the middle class this way. Protecting the middle class does not mean protecting the pecuniary interests of people with a moderate level of wealth. It means defending an old-fashioned set of values, such as ownership, entrepreneurship, and family.
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Reply Enough with the Wretched Middle Class Already By Max Ehrenfreund (Original post)
Mass Feb 2013 OP
frazzled Feb 2013 #1
Mass Feb 2013 #3
frazzled Feb 2013 #5
djean111 Feb 2013 #2
Mass Feb 2013 #4

Response to Mass (Original post)

Wed Feb 13, 2013, 05:33 PM

1. For heaven's sake ...

Really?

A higher minimum would certainly harm those in the upper middle class by forcing them to spend more on lawn care.


While the invocation of the "middle class" (and in Obama's parlance, those who are striving to get into the middle class) is indeed a political construct, it's invoked for a good reason: everyone besides the very rich and the very poor think it's them. And politics is the art of the possible. "Generous social insurance" (such as Medicare for all) is something we'd all like, but we know is not going to happen in this political moment in time. So instead we'll argue against raising the minimum wage, and the help it might provide to the least among us, as we bemoan higher lawn-care costs (mow your own!) and pipe dream about single payer? I think not.

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Response to frazzled (Reply #1)

Wed Feb 13, 2013, 05:47 PM

3. He is not arguing against raising the minimum wage

He is making the point that the interest of all people who are called middle class are not the same. That seems pretty obvious.

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Response to Mass (Reply #3)

Wed Feb 13, 2013, 06:14 PM

5. He's just a sloppy thinker

First of all, the proposal to raise the minimum wage was NOT a policy directed at the middle class. The middle class does not subsist on $7.25 an hour. Obama, in his speech, never made the argument that this was a "middle class" policy, or meant to help the middle class. Except to the extent that he argued that in a society that would pay more to its lowest wage earners, the economy as a whole would benefit. Same was true for his prescription for universal preschool. The press, and even the WH, may say Obama was going to talk about the middle class, but anyone who looks carefully at the policies, whether health care or education, will see that they are heavily weighted toward implementing policy directed at the very bottom of the economic scale. And that is called redistribution. (The rich will pay a tax to pay for subsidies for low-income Americans to acquire health insurance, for example.)

So this article first of all misses by assuming the SOTU speech was uniformly about the middle class, and then using that broad, bland statement to make a series of rather idiotic conclusions about lawn care versus single-payer health care and redistribution. I'm clearly not the only one who feels this article missed the mark. By a long shot.

The middle class is indeed a broad-brush concept, but this article is even broader-brushed.

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Response to Mass (Original post)

Wed Feb 13, 2013, 05:43 PM

2. Um,

"Still, itís unlikely Rubio or Obama would seriously consider eliminating the deduction because itís so enormously beneficial to a relatively small group of moderately wealthy people."
I live on my social security. It would be quite a blow to lose that deduction at this time.
I am certainly not moderately wealthy; I wish people would stop using such broad brushes.
Using Rubio's and Obama's names as if they are equals kinda squicks me out.......
And paying someone an extra dollar or so for lawn care will hurt?
OMG and WTF. Seriously.
Raising the minimum wage puts more money into the economy.

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Response to djean111 (Reply #2)

Wed Feb 13, 2013, 05:48 PM

4. Not what is said! Actually, the point made is the opposite.

and yes, both say they want to help the middle class, this is exactly the problem, because they are thinking at a different middle class, but we insist using the word "middle class" even as it murkies the water.

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